RTC Conference Primers: #3 – Big 12

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 4th, 2010

Owen Kemp of Rock Chalk Talk and SB Nation Kansas City is the RTC correspondent for The Big 12.

Predicted Order of Finish

  • T1. Kansas (12-4)
  • T1. Kansas State (12-4)
  • 2. Baylor (11-5)
  • 3. Missouri (11-5)
  • 4. Texas (10-6)
  • 5. Colorado (9-7)
  • 6. Texas Tech (8-8)
  • 7. Texas A&M (7-9)
  • 8. Oklahoma State (6-10)
  • 9. Nebraska (5-11)
  • 10. Oklahoma (3-13)
  • 11. Iowa State (2-14)

All-Conference Team (key stats from last season in parentheses)

  • G: Jacob Pullen – Kansas State (19.3 ppg)
  • G: Alec Burks – Colorado (17.1 ppg, 5 rpg)
  • G: LaceDarius Dunn – Baylor (19.6 ppg, 4.8 rpg)
  • F: Marcus Morris – Kansas (12.8 ppg, 6.1 rpg)
  • F: Curtis Kelly – Kansas State (11.5 ppg, 6.2 rpg)

6th Man

Cory Higgins – Colorado (18.9 ppg)

Impact Newcomers:

Perry Jones – Baylor – It’ll be tough to replace Ekpe Udoh’s defensive tenacity, but the dropoff won’t be that steep with Jones manning the paint at 6’11 and 235 pounds. As a big man with shooting range, Jones will throw off weaker defenses and also possesses advanced ball-handling skills for someone as raw as he is. Scott Drew is making waves on recruiting trails, but now is the time for his sales acumen to translate on the court.

Josh Selby – Kansas* (if eligible) – The Jayhawks went longer than most schools of its ilk without having a player leave after just one year, but they may go two straight seasons with a post-freshman departure after Xavier Henry and Josh Selby. The #5 recruit by ESPNU in the class of 2010, Selby is a big guard who can score on his own or penetrate and dish to bigger guys like Marcus Morris down low. The coaching staff, players and fans alike have to be getting restless waiting for the NCAA to make a ruling regarding Selby’s eligibility.

The effusive Frank Martin has built the Wildcats into a top-five program with the help of AP Preseason All-American Jacob Pullen. (Bruce Thorson/US Presswire)

What You Need to Know:

  • Kansas State returns several very key pieces from an Elite Eight team a year ago. The biggest question mark is going to be how they handle replacing Denis Clemente, who forced the tempo and managed the offense from the point. A potential boost could come in the emergence of Wally Judge and several other young Wildcats who began to assert themselves late in the 2009-10 season.
  • The Missouri Tigers added one of the top recruiting classes in the country to a team that is now one of the deepest and more experienced groups in the conference.  While Tony Mitchell didn’t make it to campus due to an eligibility ruling, Ricardo Ratliffe does solidify the inside and put the Tigers and Mike Anderson in the perfect position to run the “40 Minutes of Hell” style.
  • Kansas loses three players to the NBA, but looks poised to make a run at the conference championship once again. Marcus and Markieff Morris will step into key leadership roles while the development of Tyshawn Taylor and eligibility of Josh Selby will be huge in whether Kansas can go from conference contender to being in the National Title hunt.
  • Colorado is the fourth team in the North making waves, as the balance of power has shifted in the Big 12.  Alec Burks and Cory Higgins make up one of the most dangerous duos and the Buffs could be in a position to make a run at an NCAA Tournament berth for the first time since 2003.
  • Baylor and Texas will battle it out in the South.  The Bears return LaceDarius Dunn and several other developing players while the Longhorns will rebuild after a disappointing season a year ago.  Both schools have the pieces to challenge for the conference and a year after Baylor swept the series, the games between these two teams in Waco and then in Austin should have some added intensity.

Predicted Champion

Kansas (NCAA Seed:  #2) – The Jayhawks have won at least a share of the conference for six straight seasons.  Maybe the smart money is on that streak ending, because at some point, it has to.  But as of today, the Jayhawks are just as talented as any team in the league and Bill Self has been masterful at navigating the conference during his tenure with the Jayhawks. Major expectations are being heaped on Marcus Morris, and the Philadelphia native will have to adapt to being the focus of opposing defenses. The biggest challenge standing in the way of the Jayhawks will likely come in the form of rival Kansas State and maybe even another rival, the Missouri Tigers.  During the Jayhawks’ run of six straight Big 12 titles, they’ve managed to control both of these series’ for the most part.  As Mike Anderson and Frank Martin continue to develop their programs, the three teams positioned along I-70 are starting to look like one of the better three-way “rivalries” in the country.  There is a lot of great basketball being played in and around these schools, and the six games between these three teams will go a long way toward determining the champion.

Top Contenders

  • Kansas State (NCAA Seed: #2): Kansas State is viewed as the top challenger and by many counts the favorite. They have many of the pieces in place – they play a tough, physical brand of basketball that drains opponents and have the ability to handle a 16-game conference season wire-to-wire. Preseason AP All-American Jacob Pullen brings a well-rounded skill set to the table and improvement is expected from big man Wally Judge. The only thing they don’t have that the Jayhawks do is the experience of being on top at the end.  Last year, Kansas won all three meetings between the two teams.  Odds are there will be some major motivation when Kansas and Kansas State tip this go-round.
  • Missouri (NCAA Seed: #3): Missouri has depth, they now have experience and they’ve added a few key pieces in recruiting to round out the team. Mike Anderson’s style is proving many doubters wrong and it’s winning in the Big 12 at a consistent pace.  The reality is that it’s a fun style to watch and the Tigers are a program back in the mix.  As long as Anderson is in Columbia, that figures to be the case.  What’s missing? Shooting.  The Tigers were inconsistent at times a year ago and that was their downfall.  With some young guards getting another year under their belts and an improved interior hitting the glass, that’s a problem that could be alleviated on their way to a conference title. With Tony Mitchell ineligible, Phil Pressey and Ricardo Ratliffe are the cornerstones of Anderson’s 2010 incoming group.
  • Baylor (NCAA Seed #4): Baylor returns LaceDarius Dunn, who might be the best one-on-one scorer in the league.  What they lost is the inside presence of Ekpe Udoh and the driver of the ship in Tweety Carter.  If Baylor can replace Carter and heavily hyped freshman Perry Jones can fill the void left by Udoh, then Baylor could very well run away with this as the unbalanced schedule favors the South for the first time in several years.
  • Texas (NCAA Seed #5): Texas has the talent.  Rick Barnes has always been able to recruit, but the ability (or lack thereof) to get his team to gel in time to make a deep run has plagued him throughout his tenure in Austin.  A season ago, they started 17-0, only to stumble to a 9-7 conference mark.  This season, they will expect players like Jordan Hamilton and J’Covan Brown to mature while Gary Johnson, Dogus Balbay and Jai Lucas will be expected to provide the senior leadership.  True freshman point guard Cory Joseph is another player that is a classic Rick Barnes recruit and will be expected to play a role early and often. With an unenviable non-conference schedule that includes Illinois on a neutral floor and visits to Southern Cal, Michigan State and a semi-road game against North Carolina in Greensboro, the Longhorns will be thoroughly tested before conference play gets going.
  • Colorado (NCAA Seed #8) – Calling Colorado a conference contender might be a stretch, but the Buffaloes will surprise some people.  They have more talent on the roster than they’ve had in a long time and that alone will carry them to some wins.  The biggest question marks revolve around a new coach in Tad Boyle and the lack of a true inside game.  They’ll play tough and they can score with the best of them, but they aren’t deep and there are weaknesses, no doubt.

Stuck In The Middle

  • Texas Tech is actually a team that returns a lot and could surprise some people, but they have a long way to go.  Offensively, they have several pieces, including Mike Singletary, but on the defensive side of the floor this is about as far from a Knight-coached team as one could expect.  Depth isn’t great, but top-end talent is good enough to give a team looking past them fits and do some damage to play somewhere in the postseason.
  • Some might argue that Texas A&M has a solid enough team to make a run at the Big Dance, but after losing one of the best scorers in the league a year ago in Donald Sloan, this team has a lot of rebuilding to do.  Unfortunately, a solid recruiting class took a loss with the passing of Toby Ayedeji in a car accident in the spring.  They still have good talent coming in, and like Tech, the Aggies have some solid players in starting roles.  It’s just questionable as to whether they have the depth, experience and leadership to make a real run at the NCAA Tournament.  Again, good enough for postseason play.
  • Oklahoma State will feel the loss of James Anderson and Obi Muonelo in a big way.  For any program, those are tough losses to recover from and Oklahoma State isn’t the exception to the rule.  The Cowboys have a proven outside shooter in Keaton Page, but some of his success was due to defenses keying in on Anderson and Muonelo a year ago.  The Cowboys will have to find someone who will score and improve the play underneath in order to make a run at the NIT in March.

Other Teams

  • Nebraska and Doc Sadler seem to be in a constant one step forward, two steps back cycle.  Just when he seems to be assembling talent, players transfer out of the program.  This is the final year for the Huskers before departing for the Big 10 and things don’t seem to be improving all that rapidly in Lincoln.  The one thing going for the Huskers seems to be the constant flow of European talent that Sadler seems to find.  Now it’s just a matter of getting enough and keeping it.
  • Oklahoma has fallen hard and fast since the departure of Blake Griffin two years ago.  At this point, it’s virtually a reset for the whole program, as anyone of substance has jumped ship after the disaster a year ago.  The Sooners get the nod over Iowa State in the standings simply because they’ve got an easier schedule in the South.  It’s tough to give a good reason why they are a legitimately better team than anyone.
  • The Cyclones welcome back The Mayor, Fred Hoiberg to the bench after former head coach Greg McDermott left for the Missouri Valley conference and Creighton.  The Cyclones took a major hit with the departure of Craig Brackins and Marquis Gilstrap, but they did bring in an influx of talent to help bridge the gap in the short term. Things might get worse before they get better, however, and confidence is certainly low at this point in Ames.

Top 10 RPI Boosters

  • 11/16 – Virginia Tech at Kansas State (ESPN)
  • 11/18 – Texas vs. Illinois (ESPNU)
  • 11/22 – Kansas State vs. Gonzaga in Kansas City, and either Duke or Marquette the following night (ESPN2)
  • 11/27 – Kansas vs. Arizona (ESPN2)
  • 11/30 – Missouri vs. Georgetown in Kansas City (ESPNU)
  • 12/7 – Kansas vs. Memphis (ESPN)
  • 12/11 – Texas A&M vs. Washington (ESPN2)
  • 12/18 – Texas vs. North Carolina in Greensboro, NC (CBS)
  • 12/22 – Michigan State vs. Texas (ESPN2)
  • 12/22 – Kansas at California (FSN)

Key Conference Games

  • 1/17 – Kansas State at Missouri (ESPN)
  • 1/17 – Kansas at Baylor (ESPN)
  • 1/22 – Texas at Kansas (CBS)
  • 1/24 – Baylor at Kansas State (ESPN)
  • 1/29 – Kansas State at Kansas (ESPN)
  • 2/12 – Baylor at Texas (ESPN2)
  • 2/14 – Kansas at Kansas State (ESPN)
  • 3/5 – Kansas at Missouri (CBS)

Digging Deeper

  • This marks the first year that Kansas State has received the preseason nod as the conference champion favorite, and in the last year of the conference’s existence as a 12-team league, they’ll attempt to be just the second team selected as the preseason favorite to go on to win the conference.
  • 2010-11 is the final season of the conference’s partnership with the Sprint Center in Kansas City as host of the annual conference tournament. Oklahoma City and Dallas have had brief stints as host, but Kansas City has a rich college basketball tradition (the sport’s Hall of Fame is adjacent to the facility), so the renewal of the agreement with the three-year-old venue seems likely.

NCAA Tournament History

The Big 12 stands at 247-183 (.574) since the evolution of the conference began in the 1930s. Last season, it sent a record seven teams to the Big Dance, though only Kansas State and Baylor made it past the opening weekend. Despite fielding a number of high-level seeds, the Jayhawks are the only program to have notched a National Championship (they’ve won three). Nebraska is the sole institution without a win in the NCAA Tournament, and their last attempt came back in 1998.  

Final Thoughts

  • The conference saw ten players drafted into the NBA over the summer, though only two (Damion James and Dexter Pittman) exhausted their full eligibility.
  • With Nebraska and Colorado set to depart, the conference will play its final season with unbalanced schedules and 12 teams.
  • After four seasons of play, it was recently announced that 2010 will be the final installment of the Big 12/Pac -10 Hardwood Series.
  • This year, things figure to be a little more top-heavy.  Five teams legitimately can lay claim to conference title hopes, while six looks to be the ceiling for teams in the Dance.  At the top, there are three teams in Missouri, Kansas and Kansas State that will square off against one another six different times.  The North teams will face a more difficult path than the South.
  • For its part, the South has two teams in Texas and Baylor that will look to benefit from the I-70 trio beating up on each other. With just one game against each, the schedule sets up nicely for a Longhorn or Bear conference title if things work out the right way.
  • Five teams that have a chance to make real waves in the NCAA Tournament. In the past, the league has been Kansas, Kansas, Kansas, Kansas and occasionally one other team challenging at the top.  As Mike Anderson, Frank Martin and Scott Drew elevate their respective programs, the whole league benefits from a competitive standpoint.  Five teams competing for the crown means it’s a battle every night.  Only the strong survive, and when you get to the tournament, that experience is invaluable at making a deep run.
Brian Goodman (987 Posts)

Brian Goodman a Big 12 microsite writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BSGoodman.

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6 responses to “RTC Conference Primers: #3 – Big 12”

  1. WakeFan says:

    Go Aggies.

  2. Andy says:

    When was this written? Isn’t LaceDarius Dunn still on “indefinite suspension?” I haven’t seen/read anything that says otherwise. That’s a pretty big oversight by Owen Kemp and he might want to adjust his predicted order of finish as Dunn is a real impact player.

  3. rtmsf says:

    Well, Dunn is practicing and going to class at the moment, so it’s hard for me to believe that he won’t play this season. Odds are you’ll see Dunn playing sooner rather than later.

  4. Warden11 says:

    Colorado with the contenders is definitely interesting. They should have a shot at knocking off some teams but I’m not sold on their depth to do it consistently in conference play.

  5. Baylorfan says:

    All signs are pointing to LaceDarius Dunn being back on the team in time for conference play. It was a mistake and there is a good chance he won’t miss anytime from what they are saying down here.

  6. WakeFan says:

    Haha..mistake…yeah right.

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